true faith is ongoing

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:60-69

A basic teaching of Scripture is the truth that it’s not enough to start. We must continue on and finish. You see this over and over again in story and specific directive teaching.

The life of faith is not just a beginning, but a process with an ending. It involves ongoing change. And difficulty in understanding it all or at all at times is part and parcel of it all.

Note the passage above (click link for context). Many disciples, yes disciples left Jesus at a certain point. They wouldn’t follow any longer; his words were just too much for them.

Are there times when we simply don’t know, but by faith continue on? Yes, yes, and yes some more. Peter’s words are instructive for us here. They center not on specific teaching per se, but rather on Christ himself. For me, it’s continual, to some extent, constant interaction with God’s inscripturated word, which itself points to and is fulfilled in the Word himself, Jesus. But in ways not always readily received or appreciated.

The point is that we need to continue on following Jesus. In and through him.

 

 

in process open ended

Life is strange in the sense that as you go on you realize certain things will remain the same, but that the unexpected is inevitable. So that should lend a certain kind of stability in the midst of change.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

Hebrews 11:8

God is faithful, God’s promises are certain, fulfilled in Jesus. But life is uncertain. We don’t really know what will happen from one day to the next, or what the outcome will be. Except again that God will keep his promises in Jesus. And so by faith we carry on.

It’s like a wild ride at an adventure park. You  believe you’re safe, and that you’ll arrive at “home” in the end, but getting there is another thing altogether. And it seems to me we’d all be much better off realizing this is true throughout life. We’re in process, and it’s open ended, but with an altogether good destination. In and through Jesus.

 

breaking through “same old, same old” into new ground

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

We’re up against something that is either new, or maybe more likely something we’ve faced time and time again. And the experience of it has been nothing to write home about. Not good to say the least.

What if instead of accepting that kind of experience in the midst of trial, we determine right away to choose God’s will, specifically his promise given to us in Scripture? We do so by simply praying, looking to God in faith. We can’t expect our experience to change in an instant, but it will change.

And what can be underrated is the process itself. We are turning our face in a different direction entirely, away from the gloom and doom to God’s light. The effect of doing that will change us. And then we might be able to see some things that in the darkness we could not have possibly seen before. Persevering in endurance in that process, so that God might continue to grow us toward full maturity in and through Jesus.

the cloudy days, the dark nights

There are times when we don’t see clearly enough. That’s because life is experienced. When we feel unsettled, that is when we can become prone to veer off course. Though at times that can be good, since we may not be on the right course. Unfortunately we can have a false light and peace as well, so we can’t live on our feelings. But the experience of our emotions is a part of life, of who we are as humans. One of the reasons that the psalms are so wonderful, since they help us work through our struggles with God.

Oftentimes the psalmist is beset by trouble, sometimes life threatening, or perceived as such. What helps us is to see the process. The psalmist doesn’t deny what they are passing through and experiencing. They question God, or even acknowledge that they feel lost, seemingly are lost. But they also acknowledge their faith in God, in God’s goodness, and in light of God’s might saving acts. And they end up by and by praising him.

That is what I’ve found again and again. Though it really is hard when we’re smack dab in the middle of the storm, or darkness. Or when we go through a long season in which we know the sun is present, but the sky is overcast, sometimes threatening. And the sun hardly if at all ever breaks through. But in time the trouble will pass. Or more precisely, God’s light and the peace that brings will break through. As we experience something of God’s saving work in and through Jesus.

Here’s one of the psalms that illustrate the point made here:

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”

What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord
in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.

neither underestimate nor misunderstand the grace of God (nor think we can comprehend it)

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

We find again and again in scripture that God’s grace is key in our lives, in the lives of others. There are differences in teaching on this, as one might and should expect. There is what theologians call “common grace,” in which God pours down his blessings on all, in sunshine and rain, and provisions for life and more. This is not the grace described in this passage which brings salvation, according to scripture.

This is a big subject, but this post will touch mainly on one aspect of it, while addressing one common misunderstanding. God’s grace is alive and well in the world, and there is the light which enlightens every person (John 1). But the goodness and kindness of God is meant to lead people to repentance (Romans 2). There is no salvation apart from faith in Christ. It’s not just that somehow in an inexplicable, mysterious way that in the end all are saved through Christ. The NIV avoids this misunderstanding in the translation above, even if less literal. God’s grace is at work in all kinds of ways, but the special grace of salvation is always linked to repentance which means a turning from sin to God, and to faith, which means a trust in God and in God’s word, the message of the good news in Jesus.

Theologians also refer to “prevenient grace” which means the grace by which people receive the good news of the gospel for themselves by simple faith and trust in Jesus. Through Jesus’s death for our sins, and resurrection. We trust in what God has done for us through Jesus’s death, and receive forgiveness of our sins and new, eternal life.

So the grace which saves, to which the passage above refers, is not a cheap grace by which people get in with no change of life. Not at all. But at the same time grace is at work in spite of us, not because of us. That’s not to say that our efforts toward understanding and entering into this grace are a waste of time. Grace termed as prevenient by theologians might well include some of this striving, making every effort to enter into God’s rest (Hebrews 4). But also we have to remember that we still sin and have indwelling sin (1 John 1). And that is all the more true of those who have yet to cross over from death into life. They are sinners, period. Maybe Christians are both sinners and saints (Luther), depending on what you mean by that. God’s grace at work in people’s lives is in spite of so many things. God in his grace accepts us completely exactly where we’re at, but in God’s good grace, he certainly doesn’t leave us there.

Grace means we’re satisfied with nothing less than God’s salvation, which doesn’t mean only the forgiveness of sins, but also new life, a new way of living. By the Spirit in the love of God. Which means a changed life, a transformation both complete at conversion, and incomplete until Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6), meaning there is a process involved.

This grace gives us hope, and helps us to get out of God’s way, simply presenting the gospel, and trying to be responsive to God’s word. But this grace teaches us, teaches others. God’s full, unmerited, undeserved favor in helping us in ways beyond us, but in ways that indeed reach us in and through Jesus.

old lies

Sometimes in our journey we run across the same old worn out, tired lies which used to plague us in the past, and really became a part of us. The symptoms of such lies might come out in words like, “I’m no good,” or more or less in giving up on life entirely.

What we need in their place is God’s truth to us found in scripture, and in and through Jesus. It is truth in terms of what the scriptural text says, independent of our feelings, and of what was planted in us in years past, perhaps in childhood. It doesn’t matter what others might think of us, or even what we might think ourselves. We need to center ourselves and remain in God’s word to us.

Lies dissipate only as we learn to ignore them by focusing on what is true, regardless of how that goes against the grain of our own perception. So that the truth in Jesus can settle into us, into our hearts, so that we’re changed from the inside out. And of course, this is a gradual process which takes time, and we will fall out of along the way, so that we have to get up and continue on. In the truth of God’s good will and love for us, in and through Jesus.

the wheels turning slow, more often than not, a good thing, but must be turning

The Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 is a momentous occasion in the history of the faith, when what is required of God’s people with reference to the coming of Christ and what we now call the old covenant, was nailed down. But it wasn’t something that was just slapped together in a trial and error kind of way in reaction to a problem. And when you think about it, it required some significant time to have the substantial basis for the answer the apostles and elders agreed to.

It was at least eight years after Peter had first proclaimed the message of the gospel to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believing Gentiles through hearing the message. During that time Paul’s testimony of how many Gentiles came to faith during his missionary journeys agreed with that. Surely I would think that it didn’t take long for a group of believers, or some leader to insist that circumcision and old covenant requirements remained intact. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking that such was probably taken for granted by much of the early church, comprised entirely of Jewish believers, along with those Gentiles who had converted to Judaism as God-fearers.

On the other hand, as one can see from the text, it was in response to a problem which had arisen, that the council was called in the first place. So that we can surmise that it’s not good to put every problem on the back burner. Or maybe better put, we keep the wheels of deliberation turning, without some hasty reaction, which might have to be taken back, even repented of, later.

The council was called in response to a problem, like councils in the early church that followed and hammered out the teaching of scripture for the church such as Christ’s two natures: fully God, and fully human, along with the Trinity. All in response to teachings in their day which were off the mark.

I think it’s wise to move slow, and with consensus, especially among those who are leaders in the church, in harmony with the Spirit and the entire church. And yet there’s a time to make the critical move and perhaps the pronouncement which comes with it.

This doesn’t mean we should be afraid to act, or speak something into a situation. Maybe God is leading us to, maybe not, but when we have an inkling of that, we would do well to gently, but firmly do so. Yet at the same time, we live with the realization that change takes time, and actually that we’re a part of that. We need the time ourselves, to reflect on our own journey. In the case in Acts, it took Peter some time to come around and then be fully convinced and confirmed in the change. And not without a struggle, even backsliding (see Galatians 2).

God will keep us faithful to the gospel, even when we inevitably misstep along the way in details of how we’re to live it out, and be a witness to it. And it’s a process of growth into that, not something which happens overnight. With the new life in place, we might think we have all we need to do everything. But it’s much wiser to stay the course over time, looking to others, and to the church at large, as we continue in scripture ourselves.

May God give the church wisdom in all of this in whatever days and years remain before Christ’s return.